Will your sailing knife get you arrested?

What’s the legal position on carrying a sailing knife?

“The current legal position is that by virtue of S. 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 it is an offence for a person to have in a public place a knife (other than a folding pocket knife with a blade of less than 3 inches) or other bladed or pointed article; however, it is a defence for that person to show that they had good reason or lawful authority to have the knife etc with them; and “good reason” includes for use at work.

The view of the RYA is that having sailing knives ready to hand whilst on or around a yacht is strongly recommended as good safety practice, and that the best way of doing this is to have knives secured strategically on deck, as well as a personal knife in a suitable holder. Where open boats are concerned, obviously moveable equipment should be taken off when the boat is not in use, so that having a knife in a bag or toolbox in the back of a car while travelling to and from the boat ought to be (in the view of the RYA) “good reason” as a defence to a random search by the police, even if the sailor is not intending to sail on that day. Thus, in our view, if a person carrying a knife that falls within the above example, is doing so travelling to or from their yacht and the knife in question is genuinely “yachting related”, that person ought to be regarded as having good reason for carrying that knife. Knives that are used as part of a marine trade or profession, such as rigging knives also ought to fall under the ‘good reason’ exemption.

To overcome the risk of forgetting vital sailing equipment, however, many open boat sailors keep this equipment in a bag or toolbox in the car at all times during their sailing season, and this is regarded as usual good practice. The RYA’s guidance on the legislation in force at the present time is therefore, if you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that your knife is only used for boating and is kept with other obvious sailing items (e.g. foul weather gear) and is kept out of sight (e.g. in your sailing bag) except when being used, you are likely to be complying with the current legislation.

It must be borne in mind however that what might constitute “good reason” will vary according to the particular circumstances and the type of knife involved in each particular case and whether or not a person had “good reason” is a question that only the Courts can answer.

Thanks to the RYA for the above answer.